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The Big O, West and Lucas lead USA to gold at 1960 Rome Olympics

MIES (Switzerland) - The 1960 Olympics in Rome, Italy, was the fifth time the Summer Games had a basketball tournament.

It was not short of star power.

Sixteen teams took part and fans watched truly talented players.

Radivoje Korac represented Yugoslavia and was the tournament's leading scorer at 23.6 points game. Korac, whose life was cut tragically short at the age of 30 in a car crash, is among the most revered names in Serbian and international basketball history.

Korac had 16 points against the USA and led the Olympics in scoring

Janis Krumins stood tall for the Soviet Union, while Brazil had Amaury Pasos and Wlamir Marques, leaders of the team that won the FIBA Basketball World Cup the year before in Chile.

Poland boasted high-scoring Janusz Wichowski.

Alberto Almanza stood out for Mexico and Vladimir Baumruk shone for Czechoslovakia.

No team had as much talent as the United States of America, though.

Instead of Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) players, as had been the case before, the USA team came primarily from the college ranks.

Collegians Jerry West, Oscar Robertson, Jerry Lucas, Walt Bellamy, Terry Dischinger and Adrian Smith were in that USA squad.

A true Dream Team of USA led by Robertson, West and Lucas played in Rome

The USA's skillful, big and uncompromising teams at previous Summer Games had gone a combined 29-0.

In 1956, the USA team that had Bill Russell and KC Jones won all eight of their games by an average margin of 53.5 points per game.

The United States averaged nearly 100 points a game. In 1960, it was more of the same.

In Rome, the USA continued their unbeaten run, winning all eight of their games.

'The Big O' Oscar Robertson (No. 14) skying high for the USA at the Olympics

Five players, led by Robertson and Lucas (both 17.0ppg) and West (13.8ppg), averaged double figures in scoring.

"In (Coach Pete) Newell, we had one of the greatest teachers and coaches ever," Robertson recalled in a story he wrote for the New York Times in 2009 before the 1960 team was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

"He would generally figure out a way to beat you, regardless of the talent on his teams. We had speed, quickness and stamina, played stifling defense and rebounded at both ends of the court.

"We averaged 102 points and held our opponents to fewer than 60. We played textbook basketball, blocking out under the boards, setting picks for each other, and moving without the ball to get open for good shots. Everyone played his role... 

"Besides me (Cincinnati), our team's collegians were the seniors West (West Virginia) and Jay Arnette (Texas), all of whom could play guard or forward; the sophomores Dischinger (Purdue), at 19, our youngest player, and Lucas (from Ohio State’s 1960 national championship team) at forward; and the junior Walt Bellamy (Indiana) and the senior Darrall Imhoff (the anchor of Newell's 1959 California champions) at center. Lucas also periodically played center.

"Smith, a speedy guard from Kentucky's 1958 championship team who could score from 30 feet, represented the Armed Forces all-stars. He, West and I played on the 1959 Pan American Games team. Smith was Most Valuable Player of the 1966 N.B.A. All-Star Game, and he still has the car he won for that honor.

"From the A.A.U. came forwards Bob Boozer (Peoria Caterpillars), an all-American at Kansas State who delayed his N.B.A. career for Olympic eligibility, and Burdette Haldorson (Phillips Oilers, University of Colorado), who had also played for the 1956 gold medalists; the starting guard Les Lane (Wichita Vickers), also a former defensive back for Bud Wilkinson at Oklahoma; and Allen Kelley (Peoria), a guard from Kansas' 1952 national champions. The 1960 Olympic team sent nine players to the NBA."

Robertson wrote that the American squad could have been even better.

"In the Olympic tryouts," he said, "Newell's team of NCAA all-stars ended AAU domination. We routed their strongest teams — Goodyear, Phillips and Caterpillar — but even then, Newell was not permitted to choose all the collegians he wanted. There was no room for John Havlicek, Tom Sanders, Lenny Wilkens or others who went on to N.B.A. stardom."

For those that made it, the Rome Olympics was a seminal moment in their careers.

"Sometimes you get involved in situations like that, you don't realize the importance of it until you get out of it," Robertson said. "Once you get out of it, you figure, 'Boy, what a great bunch of guys'."

"I really felt for the first time that I had done something not for West Virginia or for my high school team, but we'd done something for the country." - Jerry West

West, whose likeness is the NBA logo, says nothing in his famous career matched being an Olympian.

"There was so much going on in the world then," he said, "the threat of nuclear war, the Cold War, racism. The world was in turmoil.

"When I was selected (for the Olympic team), it was like the dream of a lifetime.

"When you went to the ceremonies, it was just incredible the feeling that you had inside."

The 2.18m Krumins stood beside Soviet weightlifter Eugene Minaev

Only the Soviet Union, whom the USA ultimately beat 81-57, managed to put up a fight for half the game.

The Soviets trailed 35-28 at the break but were then brushed aside in the first five minutes of the second half with a 20-point onslaught by the USA. West had a team-high 19 points.

While the Americans marched to the gold medal, the Soviets claimed the silver and Brazil bronze.

In 1960, only two players climbed onto the podium to accept the gold medal and not the entire team. For the USA, the two were West and Robertson.

"I wish that people could know what it felt like," West said. "The emotion that was going through your body, the elation, the joy.

"I really felt for the first time that I had done something not for West Virginia or for my high school team, but we'd done something for the country.

"Every time (today) that I hear the national anthem, I'm immediately back to that point in time.

"It made the biggest impression on me more than anything, more than winning an NBA Championship."